Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend - Day 3

Make sure you read about our Day 1 and Day 2 adventures first!

Day 3 started off just like Day 2, with the killer free breakfast at our hotel, and then Starbucks. Everyone sort of went their own ways this morning, with one couple heading home, Kristina and I going for a drive out in the country, and making plans to meet up with my Aunt and Uncle, who live in Walla Walla. Eventually we met up with 3 of our group at K Vintners. We didn't realize they were closed on Sunday, and were only accepting tastings by appointment. Fortunately, winemaker Charles Smith had a tasting appointment at the same time we showed up (along with a bunch of others), so he poured for us all! And what an experience! Charles is a no-nonsense kind of guy, and his gruff manner and crude jokes had the entire group laughing hard in no time! We started out with the 2009 Eve Chardonnay, moved to the 2008 Motor City Kitty Syrah, and then to the 2008 Phil Lane Syrah. Both were quite delicious, but the icing on the cake, and my favorite wine, was the 2007 Heart Syrah. What an amazing wine! Huge fruit and a ton of structure. It was a bit too pricy for us, so we went home with bottles of the Phil Lane and MCK Syrahs instead. I also snapped this great shot of an etched bottle of 2006 Royal City Syrah:

Royal City Syrah

After getting some great pictures of Kristina on the K Vintners "K" (shown below), we headed over to my Aunt and Uncles house for a short visit, prior to hitting the road back to Portland. Another great Walla Walla trip, and I'm sure there will be many more!

Kristina on the K

Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend - Day 2

Make sure you read about our Day 1 adventures first!

We started off Day 2 by grabbing the free breakfast at our hotel. A nice spread! Afterwards, as part of our group was already out at the Airport wineries, we headed downtown for Starbucks and ended up tasting at DaMa Wines, with Mel pouring again (this time as a brunette!). I liked their Syrah a lot.

Finally, we headed south to my favorite Walla Walla winery, Rasa Vineyards. Pouring their wines was winemaker Billo Naravane. His brother and business partner, Pinto, was unfortunately not able to make the trip out to Walla Walla from his home on the East Coast. The wines were, as always, absolutely amazing! From their second-label PB Wines to the perfect-scoring 2007 Principia Reserve Syrah, all were so good! The Principia was my favorite, but I went home with another bottle of their delicious 2007 QED Rhone blend. Barrel samples were the 2009 QED, 2008 Principia and 2008 Creative Impluse, a stellar Bordeaux blend sourced from DuBrul Vineyard in Yakima Valley. If you thought Rasa was only great with Rhone varietals, think again! This wine shows a ton of promise, and I'm kicking myself for not jumping on a couple bottles at futures pricing. Such depth and purity of fruit. Just amazing wine.

After Rasa, we headed back into Walla Walla and out to the airport to meet up with our wayward friends at Dunham Cellars. The winery was all decked out in full Christmas decorations, with a huge tree in one corner, perfect for photo ops. Favorite wine at Dunham was the 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah. The barrel samples were a 2008(?) Syrah and Cabernet from Lewis Vineyard (both were VERY tasty).

Although I wanted to hit the 5 "incubator" wineries at the Airport, we ended up heading back into town to dump the cars and set off on foot to the downtown area tasting rooms. First stop, Trey Busch and Sleight of Hand Cellars. A bonus this time, we got to meet Trey's stepfather (I think), Dougal, from Georgia. What a fun guy! Trey makes an amazing Syrah, the Levitation, and the 2008 was drinking well this day. The barrel sample was a 2009 Syrah from Funk Vineyard called "Funkadelic". It was superb. I wanted to pick up a couple bottles of the Levitation, but didn't want to lug them around with me all night, so I swore to stop by on Sunday before we left to stock up. I forgot, of course (sorry Trey!), but will get some soon! The wine is too good to pass up.

After leaving SofH, we hiked down to El Corazon Winery at the end of downtown, and next to Mill Creek Brewpub. Spencer is the owner/winemaker, and his lovely wife and 6 year-old son were helping out in the tasting room. Never having tried El Corazon wines, I was very impressed! The barrel sample was a special extended-barrel aged Syrah. Great stuff, but reserved for wine club members. I'll be leaning on Woody to kick me down some when it is available! Kristina ended up buying a magnum of their 2009 Malbec. Really yummy stuff! As a bonus, the Walla Walla Holiday Light Parade went by as we were walking over to our next stop up the street.

That stop being Nicholas Cole Cellars. A great, modern tasting room, right at the end of downtown (and a perfect place to watch the parade of lights, while staying warm). Stand out wine here was the Estate Reserve, but ALL of the wines were great. A sad aside here, winemaker Mike Neuffer has closed the winery indefinitely, in order to care for his children in Seattle, after the death of their mother. I hope all goes well, and he is able to return to winemaking soon. The wines are delicious.

At this point, we had all hit our wine limit and headed over the the Marcus Whitman Hotel bar for some cocktails and warmth, before going back to the hotel. Don't miss our Day 3 adventures!

Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend - Day 1

I recently took a weekend trip to Walla Walla for the Holiday Barrel Tasting weekend event, December 3-5. And finally got my girlfriend, Kristina, to come along, and see some of where I spent a lot of growing up. The 3 1/2 hour drive from Portland was uneventful, even with snow on the side of the highway. Once we pulled into the outskirt towns of Walla Walla, we made our first stop: L'Ecole No. 41 in Lowden, just west of Walla Walla on Hwy. 12. While all of their wines were delicious, we especially loved the 2008 Walla Walla Valley Estate Syrah, and the 2007 Perigee and Apogee Bordeaux blends. The barrel samples here were 2009 Perigee and 2009 Apogee.

Our group had all driven out from Portland the day before, and were already deep into wine country, so we decided to meet up with them south of town, at Basel Cellars. Of course we had to drive past my grandparent's old place on Wallula Road (wow, has it fallen apart since they sold it 20 years ago!), since it was on the way. We were the first at Basel Cellars, and proceeded to start the tasting. I think we were the only customers in the tasting room! Stand-outs at Basel Cellars were the 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah, 2007 Walla Walla Valley Estate Syrah, 2006 Basel Cellars Merriment Bordeaux blend, and the 2008 Cabernet Franc. We got a private tour of the winery, which used to be a huge garage for collectible cars and motorcycles. A very cool operation there. Upon returning to the tasting room, we met up with our group, and got to taste the barrel samples, a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, and (I think) Merlot. Much wine was purchased, for me, the 2006 Syrah.

After Basel, we raced over to Gramercy Cellars before they closed. I love MS Greg Harrington's wines, and we got to try a new one this night: The 2008 "Lower East" Cabernet Sauvignon (which gave the standard Gramercy Cab a run for it's money!), basically juice from the regular bottling that didn't quite make the cut. The 2008 regular Cab must be amazing, because the Lower East was damn tasty! The stand-out wine for me was the "Inigo Montoya" (My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.) Tempranillo. I can't remember the barrel sample here (2009 Syrah?), but I liked it a lot. Along with Gramercy, we got to taste Substance (fun website!) wines too. My favorites here were the Malbec and Syrah. I don't recall any barrel samples from Substance.

While everyone was tasting away, I boogied over to Waters Winery to taste through their Syrah line-up. I recalled from our Labor Day trip that I really, really liked one of the Syrah's, but not which one. Turns out, they are ALL amazing, but the meaty, stinky 2007 Forgotten Hills Vineyard Syrah. Wow, what a wine. I went home with 2 bottles of this treasure. Barrel samples were the 2009 Forgotten Hills Syrah and 2009 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon.

After tasting, we all headed into Walla Walla to our hotel, the Walla Walla Best Western, to freshen up and prepare for our dinner at T. Maccarones (we had to go back, after our stellar meal last trip). Great food, as always, and an amazing server (Nikki, I'm talking to you!). Although my favorite wine from last time, the Adamant Cellars Syrah, was out of stock, we ended up bringing a couple of our own bottles to enjoy.

After dinner, we walked around downtown (in 20+ degree weather, no less) before heading over to the Sapolil Cellars Tasting Room for some live music and a glass of their tasty Syrah, before stumbling back to the hotel for the night.

Read about our Day 2 and Day 3 adventures next!